A worker dismantles the sky bridge Thursday that connects the Waterville Opera House and The Center. The Opera House will serve as one of three venues in July for the 2021 Maine International Film Festival. Films will also be screened online. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The Maine International Film Festival is returning to the city this summer and will hold a mix of in-person and virtual events. 

The festival, known as MIFF, aims to bring films from around the world to Maine and is scheduled for July 9 to 18. This year will mark the festival’s 24th year.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to scramble to rework the event schedule, according to Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which is based in Waterville and runs the festival. 

Traditionally, the festival has been held at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House, with 10 movies screened per day for 10 days.

With the pandemic, the festival last year screened films at the nearby Skowhegan Drive-In Theater and online.  

“We host the film festival in July, so in mid-March last year, when everything was closing down, we had to act really quickly to figure out a plan to keep the festival going, because a lot of people love coming to the festival every year and so we really wanted to deliver on that,” Perreault said.  

This year, the festival will show films online and at:

• Railroad Square Cinema, 17 Railroad Square, Waterville.

• Waterville Opera House, 1 Common St.

• Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, 201 Waterville Road, Skowhegan.

“We’re hoping that there’s a way for everyone who wants to take part in the festival to engage with us,” Perreault said. “Even if you’re not able to travel to Maine this summer or you’re just not ready to go inside, there’s definitely a way for you to take part in the festival. We want to be accommodating to as many people as we can.” 

More films are expected to be screened than last year, according to Perreault, but the number might not reach the usual 100.

To protect attendees’ safety during the ongoing pandemic, indoor movie showings will have capacity limits and require social distancing and protective masks.

We’re really excited to get people back into our venues,” Perreault said. “We think it’s really important that people are able to experience film on the big screen in a darkened theater — the right way.

“And I think people are ready to move beyond streaming on their couch and take part in the community experience, as well.” 

Perreault said he will continue monitoring COVID-19 guidelines set by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention as the festival approaches.

“Everything that we are doing regarding indoor screenings will be governed by CDC guidelines,” he said. “We want to provide a safe experience, an enjoyable experience. We are going to follow the rules, and expect everyone who attends films indoors to do the same.”

In the past, other events had been scheduled to complement the films, such as discussions with directors. Perreault said he hoped to have some version of that this year, but was not prepared to share details.

For now, he said, MIFF’s programming team is finalizing the list of films, which will be announced in June.

Those interested in attending can buy festival passes and packages, which provide broad access to the festival.

Tickets for individual showings will be available when the film lineup is announced.

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